TIFF Review: “The Program” fails to focus

Journalist David Walsh’s story to bring down disgraced American cyclist, Lance Armstrong, falls flat in Stephen Frears’ new film, The Program. Based on Walsh’s 2012 book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the movie follows Armstrong’s rise to the top and Walsh’s chase to prove the cyclist’s use of performance enhancing drugs.

Although Ben Foster’s portrayal of the infamous cyclist is one of the greatest performances of his career, the film fails to convey the gravity of Armstrong’s actions. Unfortunately, Foster’s performance was the only redeemable aspect of the entire film. After watching The Program, you’ll walk away hating Armstrong, if not movie itself.

Frears — known for his acclaimed 2013 film, Philomena, as well as his John Cusack starring rom-com, High Fidelity — takes on the scandal of Lance Armstrong with the same light and easy tone of his past films, which was his first mistake. For a subject that was extremely contentious at the time, the film deserved a darker tone that dug deeper into the controversy. 

The film opens with a breathtaking tracking shot of Armstrong riding his bike on an empty mountain road and then jumps to the start of Lance’s cycling career. He became an icon after combatting testicular cancer and winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles. He stood on a pedestal in the cycling world. Eventually, he went on to launch his Livestrong campaign, which became the biggest cancer foundations on the planet. He was untouchable.

The beginning of the film gives the audience brief insight into Armstrong’s struggles and his first experimentation with performance enhancing drugs before being diagnosed with cancer. Armstrong’s constant drive to win fuels his decision to continue doping, and the rest of the film is about hiding his secret at all costs. Everything comes crumbling down when it was revealed that he had been using performance enhancing drugs during all of his Tour de France victories. From that point on, his status as an icon switched from hero to hypocrite.

For a film that’s based on Walsh’s novel, it concentrates more on Armstrong’s trials and tribulations, and less on Walsh’s pursuit to reveal Armstrong’s secret. His investigations were not the focus of the film. The Program revealed certain aspects of the scandal that not many people know about but it could’ve done more. If you’re a fan of Frears’ past films, you might find yourself disappointed. Though, Foster’s performance is the attention. He leaves the rest of the film in his shadow.

Featured image from YouTube